In general, all non-profits share certain day-to-day struggles: maintaining funding from year-to-year, stretching dollars to cover project costs, trying to keep operating costs down while still running an efficient organization, etc. But perhaps one of the most insidious and toxic problems is mission creep. Mission creep is when an organization gradually moves away from its original focus, whether it’s to go after more money, more success, or simply the path of least resistance.
Staying true to your mission and your principles is not always easy. We have experienced the struggle more than once here at SCSRN. One example is our sanitation project with UMOYS (Unión de Mujeres Organizadas de Yasica Sur, or Organized Women’s Group of Yasica Sur) a group of rural women leaders that represent over 20 rural communities in San Ramón. When we first met with the women of UMOYS in 2015, they quickly made it clear to us that their most urgent need was latrines. For many years we had dedicated ourselves to education projects, but our organization is founded on the principles of non-paternalism and meeting community-identified needs, and we had heard from many leaders that water and sanitation were the highest priorities, so we decided to change focus.
We worked together with UMOYS to design the project, and a year later we began building our first latrines. So far, we have built 79 latrines in five communities, and we will start in our sixth community, La Lima, in Spring 2020. We combined the latrine building with sanitation, hygiene, and water management training for the beneficiaries.
In terms of projects, latrines are not “sexy.” We get it—it’s hard to get excited over building latrines. There are only so many ways we can take a photo of a newly constructed latrine, and no one really wants to go into too much detail about what goes on in there and the basic human need it fulfills. But improved sanitation for rural families, especially where access to clean water and medical care is difficult, can literally be a question of life or death. Families who have received latrines and sanitation training report a reduction in illness, especially in children. And improved family health is not the only benefit of this project. The women of UMOYS feel listened to, and as a result, they’re highly engaged in the entire process, creating a greater sense of community ownership of the project. They also receive more respect in their communities, where women leaders are the minority.
So what does this have to do with mission creep? Non-profits are always keeping one eye on the bottom line, and it’s easy to want to please donors first and think about the needs of those you serve second. But we believe in the importance of staying true to our founding principles, so partnership and mutual understanding with the people of San Ramón come first for us. And in the end, that is what has inspired the majority of our donors to support our work.
If you’d like to see more pictures from our latrine project with UMOYS, please visit our Flickr page. If you’d like to learn more about our work and how we support local solutions to local problems, please contact us!